Earlier this week I shared the link to a piece by Dana Woldow, “Will SNA Chart a New Course?,” which examined the background of newly elected School Nutrition Association President Jean Ronnei. Woldow speculated that, based on the progressive meal program Ronnei previously oversaw as school food director in St. Paul, Minnesota, her election might signal a softening of SNA’s current stance against science-based school nutrition standards.
But this morning SNA’s spokesperson, Diane Pratt-Heavner, left a comment on The Lunch Tray which included Ronnei’s response to Woldow’s piece. The letter would appear to indicate that any optimism about SNA changing course is not justified.
Ronnei’s response is reprinted in full here:
In response to Dana Woldow’s “Will SNA Chart a New Course,” I am grateful for Ms. Woldow’s confidence in my ability to effectively lead the School Nutrition Association (SNA) as President. I am honored to serve SNA’s 55,000 members, who work hard to prepare healthy meals that meet regulations, appeal to diverse student communities, are affordable for families and fit within increasingly tight school meal program budgets.
Saint Paul Public Schools’ (SPPS) Nutrition Services team, like so many others nationwide, has dedicated their careers to improving school menus and encouraging students to make healthier choices. Thanks to our central kitchen, equipped with the help of federal funds no longer available to schools, we slowly and carefully increased the amount of whole grains into our school-baked products that were then not available in the market place.
SPPS needed to apply for a temporary whole grain waiver that would allow the district to create a menu item that would appeal to our diverse student body. As Ms. Woldow cited, our district is renowned for efforts to offer dishes that our diverse student body recognizes from home. At the urging of our Karen community, we sought the waiver to add culturally relevant dishes to our menus, such as a scratch-prepared breakfast entree made with white Jasmine rice and scrambled eggs. Schools nationwide should be able to make exceptions like these when planning menus, which is why SNA is seeking reasonable flexibility.
SPPS has always encouraged students to take “All You Care to Eat” from our colorful fruit and vegetable “Choice Bars,” but we struggle with the new mandate forcing every child to take a fruit or vegetable at breakfast and every day, even if they don’t want to eat it. This mandate has frustrated students and staff, spoiling what should be a healthy choice that leads to student consumption. Meanwhile, forcing students to take food they don’t eat has increased costs, forcing us to limit the varieties of fruits and vegetables we once served. As a result of rising costs, we have been unable to set aside funds to replace old equipment for the past few years.
Thanks to the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), SPPS is now serving all students in some schools for free. CEP helped our district and others regain some of the student customers we lost under the new rules. Unfortunately, too many schools are ineligible for this program.
As SNA President, I am called to serve school nutrition professionals from every background, including those who do not enjoy many of the advantages that helped SPPS get ahead of the curve in meeting new requirements. For SPPS, and for theirs, I will continue to support SNA’s requests for increased funding and flexibility under the new standards.
Jean Ronnei, SNS
Chief Operating Officer, Saint Paul Public Schools, MN
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